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Community Continues To React To Mistreatment Of Mentally Ill Inmate

Some say the incident at the Harris County Jail points to a larger cultural issue within the law enforcement system.


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Activist Cynthia Cole says the mistreatment of a mentally ill inmate points to a larger cultural issue within the law enforcement system.


Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has fired six employees and suspended 29 others without pay. The action comes after Terry Goodwin, an inmate with a history of mental illness, was left in a cell for weeks in unsanitary conditions.

Cynthia Cole is with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union represents employees at the Harris County Jail. Cole says the fear of retaliation makes some officers hesitant to report misconduct.

“There’s a problem when you become the whistleblower within that system,” Cole says. “There’s a problem when you’re identified as the individual who says ‘there’s something amiss because I’m working in this environment, and somebody isn’t doing their job, so I tell it.’”

Alan Bernstein with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office disagrees. He says the recent terminations send a clear message that all employees must report wrongdoing, even if their supervisors turn a blind eye.

“If it’s not fixed, then you need to take other action and not just fold your hands and say you followed orders,” Bernstein says.

Since the Goodwin incident, the sheriff has established an anonymous tip line to report concerns about inmate care. Bernstein says they have received 934 reports from the public to date.